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North Korean Nuclear Test Condemned; Will the Catholic Church Look to Modernize?

Aired February 12, 2013 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

North Korea warned that it would happen and they kept their word. The secretive country confirmed today that it has conducted its third nuclear test. The explosion was estimated by the South Korean defense ministry to be about 6 or 7 kilotons. Experts say it was significantly bigger and perhaps more sophisticated than the last test back in 2009.

And to give you an idea of what that means, take a look at this map of Manhattan. According to the website,, if an explosion of the size that just took place occurred in New York City, it could have killed up to 90 percent of people downtown from Wall Street to Greenwich Village. North Korea's action was met with predictable indignation from around the world.

The U.N. Security Council went into emergency session. North Korea's ambassador, seen here struggling through a sea of media. The U.N. secretary-general called the test appalling and reckless, although in an interview with just a few hours before the test, he seemed to acknowledge the immense difficulty of getting his message and his warnings through to the North Koreans.


BAN KI-MOON, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: First of all, I have been using my public statement to -- as the secretary-general of the United Nations and the messages have been conveying to Pyongyang through the major countries in the -- in the region.

AMANPOUR: So you haven't picked up the phone and talked?

BAN: I have not been able to talk directly to the leadership in Pyongyang. They don't work in that way.


BAN: I don't think whether any has ever spoken over the telephone to North Korea leadership.


AMANPOUR: Well, that lack of communication is very difficult. And after the test, President Obama called it a highly provocative act. And even China, North Korea's main ally, issued an unusually strong diplomatic demage (ph). Even under gripping sanctions, North Korea has managed to advance its nuclear program.

And so, what next? If the world had hoped for a kinder, gentler new young North Korean leader, then he's shown that his policy has not changed from that of his father.

And North Korean television showed its people celebrating after last December's successful rocket launch. We rarely hear from the North Korean people about how they view their leadership's decisions, which only adds to our lack of understanding of the so-called hermit kingdom.

But John Everard has a lot of insight into this topic. He lived in Pyongyang for several years as British ambassador, and he wrote a book about his diplomatic experiences, called "Only Beautiful, Please."

And Ambassador Everard joins from London now.

So welcome to the program, Ambassador. Good to see you.

You --


AMANPOUR: You arrived at your ambassadorial post in 2006, shortly after the North Koreans launched their first nuclear test. Are you surprised that Kim Jong-Il's son is following so closely in his father's footsteps on this regard?

EVERARD: Well, firstly, no. I'm not surprised. In fact, I arrived before the first nuclear test. I lived through it. It was quite an event. It does seem to me that the nuclear program is a kind of sacred duty that's been passed down from father to son, from Kim Il-sung through Kim Jong-Il and now to Kim Jong-un. So, no, I'm not surprised, I'm afraid, that it's been continued.

So you say it's a sacred duty and you've written this book, "Only Beautiful, Please." First, I want to know why you've named it that title. What does that mean?

But why is it a sacred duty? What do the people know about it? How do they react to it beyond the televised pictures that we see?

EVERARD: Well, firstly, why is the book called, "Only Beautiful, Please," it's because at one point a friend from the U.K. was visiting North Korea and was taking some photographs, which offended some local North Koreans, who went and found a military officer, who insisted on inspecting my friend's camera and checking that there was nothing there that showed North Korea in a bad light.

And as he handed the camera back, having satisfied himself that, indeed, there was nothing there that would cause offense, he smiled and said, "Only beautiful, please," that's to say only show the nice out of our country.


AMANPOUR: Well, so let me interrupt you --

EVERARD: And the phrase kind of stuck and became the title of the book.

AMANPOUR: Let me interrupt you about precisely that, then. Do you think that all of this, not just what the people said and the policeman said, but the actions of the leadership there, is that about pride? Is it about some kind of national position? Or where do you think their strategy is headed with this?

EVERARD: I think that an important element of pride and national sovereignty, as the North Koreans like to call it, are bound up with this.

But it's not just pride. I think they have calculated that having watched what's happened in Iraq, I mean, watched what happened in Libya, that if you have nuclear weapons, you are safe from a military intervention by what they regard as hostile powers, meaning, of course, primarily the United States.

So this is, as much as anything, an act in their eyes of self- preservation.

AMANPOUR: Before I explore more about the North Korean people with you, I want to ask you about the diplomatic fallout, because, clearly, they think it's an act of self-preservation, but they're now beginning to really pick off their main ally, and that's China.

There was a very strong response, unusually so, from China today. And surely China must be worried, because it's the North Korean threat -- so say experts -- that is sort of part of the rationale for the American pivot to Asia, which China doesn't really like.

Does China see North Korea as sort of, you know, leaving the reservation? Is it a worry?

EVERARD: Yes. I think the problem here is that we talk about China as if it were a monolithic hole. There's a fierce argument going on in China now about policy towards North Korea.

And a lot of very articulate and very intelligent Chinese are saying precisely what you've just said, that North Korea is a problem. It damaged China's reputation. It damages, in particular, China's ability to build bridges to the United States and that China should simply cut its losses and walk away from North Korea.

On the other hand, we're getting Chinese who, with equal passion, are saying that North Korea is one of China's few friends, one of the few countries that's preventing the imperialist blockade (ph) around China, preventing people encircling China. They say, too, that North Korean soil is soaked with Chinese blood.

And, of course, it's true that a lot of Chinese died in the Korean War, defending North Korea, as they will say it, against the South.

So there's a big debate here. And I think one of the most interesting things about the fallout from this test will be to see whether this prompts China finally to achieve a consensus over what do with North Korea.

AMANPOUR: And I think part of that debate that many people are watching with great interest is that the Chinese state media organs, at least, are really having a debate about whether China should link its aid to North Korea, to North Korea's behavior.

Let me move a little bit further south to South Korea, North Korea's neighbor, because the incoming president, Madame Park, has suggested that in certain ways she wants to break with her predecessor; she ran on breaking with his harsh policy toward North Korea. She even talked about possibly having a summit with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

And yet, last night, the secretary-general told me that if the North Koreans do conduct this test, that is going to force her to shelve those plans and that they not be able to be revived.

How does South Korea, then, react in this regard after this test?

EVERARD: I think that the South Korean position has been made very difficult by this test. I think the secretary-general's assessment is accurate.

Not only does it make it much more difficult for anybody, including South Korea, to reach out in a -- in a gentle way, so to speak, to North Korea after North Korea has displayed such terrible behavior, but remember, that all this happened under the South Korean president of the Security Council.

It was the South Korean ambassador who read out that really quite strongly worded press statement today from the Security Council. So this - - the -- any sanctions that the Security Council decides to impose following this test will be intimately associated with South Korea. I think incoming President Park's rough (ph) maneuver has been severely curtailed.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Let's get back to North Korea and to the people who really make up the substance of your book.

We have these incredible pictures; we've shown, as we were introducing this report, of all the North Korean people, at least those on television, jumping up and down and celebrating and smiling about the rocket launch in December.

What do they really know about it? And what do they really feel about it, do you think? And you've spoken to a lot of people.

EVERARD: I spoke to a lot of people. I mean, I can't say how exactly what they think about this launch. But I did speak to a lot of people following early missile launches and earlier nuclear tests. And reactions varied. You did find North Koreans who were still brimming (ph) with patriotic pride at the technical achievements of their country.

But as the days ticked past, after the first nuclear test, North Koreans were asking me if I knew how much the test had cost. And then they'd ask how much a ton of rice cost on the international markets.

Now they weren't explicit with me, but I'm pretty sure that they were calculating just how much food could have been bought for the money that their government had instead spent on a nuclear program. And I'm not sure that all North Koreans were particularly happy at the way that their regime was spending very scarce resources.

As you know, although most of the North Koreans that I knew were the kind of ultra-elite of Pyongyang, who, perhaps, didn't eat well, but they ate fairly regularly, there are a lot of North Koreans who go hungry. North Korea is a country with endemic food insecurity; there's not enough food to go around.


EVERARD: And I personally find it shocking that the government has squandered huge amounts of money developing nuclear weapons when it can't buy rice for its people.

AMANPOUR: And as we show some of these other extraordinary pictures that we've seen, sort of a mini-glimpse inside Pyongyang, you know, when Kim Jong-Il died, and at his funeral there was this massive outpouring, again, of televised grief, and one wonders how much of it was genuine and how much of it was staged, but as we play these pictures, I wanted to ask you, do the North Korean people know how poor they are and badly off they are in a material sense -- as well as every other sense -- compared, let's say, to their neighbor?

EVERARD: This has been one of the big changes in at least Pyongyang society. I can't speak for what happens on collective farms out in the sticks in North Korea, but all my contacts were painfully aware of just how backward their country had become, not only compared to China. And they knew quite a lot about China, where it filtered through the border quite a lot.

But also, of course, compared to South Korea, in particular a lot of them watched DVDs of South Korean soap operas. Now I'm not suggesting that soap operas of any country are an accurate portrayal of reality.

But they at least gave these people a vision of a completely different lifestyle, a life where people were able to live in nice apartments, drive nice cars and occasionally go out for meals, things of which they could only dream. So, yes, that message really has come home. And it hurts them. It hurts their national pride.

AMANPOUR: Ambassador Everard, thank you so much for joining us with that unique insight.

EVERARD: My pleasure.

AMANPOUR: And the Kim family dynasty has ruled North Korea for 65 years by modern standards that's quite a run. But it pales compared to the line of popes since St. Peter held the keys to the kingdom. After a brief break, we'll meet the man who many believe could be on the short list.

But first, take a look at this prophetic view of the Vatican. You may have seen lightning strike the dome of St. Peter's Basilica yesterday, shortly after Pope Benedict announced his resignation. But if my next guest does become the first black pope, lightning may strike again.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Now you don't have to be Catholic to care about who the next pope will be. The guessing game and the betting is on in earnest since Pope Benedict XVI announced yesterday that he'll step down at the end of this month, the first pope to do so voluntarily since 1294. And my next guest, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, is near the top of many lists.

Pope Benedict was long seen to be visibly tiring and today we learn that he's had a pacemaker and underwent surgery to replace the battery just a few months ago.

Meantime, the Catholic Church is at a crossroads. Many amongst its flock of more than 1 billion people wanted to address life and faith concerns of the modern world, on issues that range from admitting women as priests to gay marriage, not to mention, of course, zero tolerance and full accountability for the crimes of the rolling priest sexual abuse scandal.

Joining me now from Rome, a possible papal contender, Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson.

Cardinal, thank you for joining me. I know you're laughing and smiling and I'm sure you're too modest. But do you think that it is possible that maybe it could be you?

CARDINAL PETER TURKSON OF GHANA: I mean, you know, it's possible for any bishop or any ordained minister in the Catholic Church, you know, to become a cardinal, to become a pope for that matter. And the group of cardinals who would gather in conclave, you know, would all go in there, recognizing that any of them can be chosen as a pope.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you this --


TURKSON: So this is -- this is -- yes?

AMANPOUR: Go ahead.

TURKSON: Go ahead.




AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, these are the perils of live television. In any event, it's great to have you from Rome.

And I want to ask you many people are wondering whether, for the first time, the next pope will be from out of Europe, or at least for the first time in a long, long time, from outside of Europe. And they particularly point to Africa and even Asia, where the Catholic Church is growing the fastest. Do you think it's time for a new face, a younger face?

TURKSON: It is. It is certainly possible to have a cardinal come from a certain part of the globe, from Latin America, from Africa or from Asia. I mean, in several places -- Latin America is (inaudible) well over 500 to 700 years.

In several places in Africa and Asia, we've had a (inaudible) celebrate 58 (ph) anniversaries and centenaries. So we begin to see from all of this in our young churches mature prelates, mature churchmen, who are capable of exercising leadership in their church.

So the possibility that a candidate or any of the guys (ph), any of the cardinals to be elected pope can come from the certain parts of (inaudible) is very real.

AMANPOUR: All right.

TURKSON: I mean, it may not -- yes.

AMANPOUR: Not just the age or the place, now, but as I said, a lot of Catholics are looking for a more modern, you know, a more modern faith to satisfy the needs and requirements of today's modern world. What do you think?

I mean, should the next pope have a different view on a woman's contribution at the very top levels? Shouldn't there be women priests? What about gay marriage, which is sweeping certainly the United States and parts of Europe, even amongst practicing Catholics and Catholic political leaders?

TURKSON: Yes, I know all of that. I mean, so then, you know, I'll go one step further and probably interpret or understand your reference to modernity or modern priests as, you know, other as all of these manifestations.

You know, (inaudible) that either it's a conclave and the cardinals go in there, and everything about what we are talking about now is about the leadership of a church, of a faith community. A church is a church because it's basically a faith community.

And the faith continues to guide the life of the church, how it lives, what it believes and how it present, you know, practices its (inaudible) society. Therefore, we have (inaudible) over here to consider.

We need to be true and faithful to the faith which made the church a church. And we need to be true to being relevant in society and fulfillment of the mission of a church. So we have these two, as it were, coordinates to, you know, to, you know, trace our trajectory true. We may not sacrifice one for the other.

So while the church, yes, seeks to be relevant to society, responding to the various needs of humankind, variants in our lifestyles and all, we also need all the time to have a mind on, you know, what it is that a church believes or what a church consider its their posit of faith.

AMANPOUR: All right.

TURKSON: We may not, you know, we may not (inaudible). We may not sacrifice (inaudible).


TURKSON: We may not sacrifice (inaudible) truth, otherwise, you know, we cease to be a church. I mean, if we need to be any group of -- yes.

AMANPOUR: No, no, I hear you loud and clear.

TURKSON: We're not just any group of (inaudible) society. (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: Of course, you're not. But as we all know, much of the gospel, much of what has been written in all faiths were written and handed down, you know, hundreds of years after the fact on Earth. And what I want to know from you --

TURKSON: (Inaudible).

AMANPOUR: -- talking to me now in the modern world is how can you justify the pleas, really, of faithful Catholic nuns, who simply are being driven out of the church by one reason or another, and many of them, particularly here in the West, in the United States, in Europe, say why on Earth would the top levels of the priesthood be banned to women?

On what possible ground in 2013 can that be justifiable by doctrine, by morality, by ethics, by faith, in any form or fashion?

TURKSON: OK, you know, I will not dispute, you know, the -- and I'll essentially make that hand writ (ph) and (inaudible) probably (inaudible) driven out of a church because over the issue of leadership or over the issue of exercise (ph) of, you know, ordination, ordained roles and powers within the church.

But you know, I think -- I think, you know, in all fairness, you know, this is not -- I mean, if one does not have a chance (ph) to ordination, it's not that discriminate -- it's not any, you know, verdict on one's own nature or one's own character or one's, for that matter, one's own sex or gender. That's not the issue, I don't think.

It is -- it is, you know, the various posts in consonas (ph) and infidelity (ph) with the deposit (ph) of faith have found all this. And John II, John Paul II, you know, studied this issue and, you know, believed that it will be -- you know, it will be truer to the deposit (ph) of faith to affirm their reservation of, you know, priest ordination to men.


TURKSON: I mean, if at any point in history, this was going to -- this is going to come up again, I this it's not a denial of rights or anything to anybody. It is just how the church has understood this order of ministry to be.

AMANPOUR: As we know, those kinds of understandings can be eminently changeable. And I think you will probably continue to see these women and these nuns challenge the Vatican on these issues.

But can I also ask you, on an equally serious subject, you know, in 2002, as you know very well, the priest sexual abuse scandal rocked the United States. Under Pope Benedict XVI, in 2010, it swept through Europe. Are you concerned that it could sweep and emerge through Africa and do you believe that the church has sufficiently held the guilty accountable?

TURKSON: I (inaudible) do I believe that it can sweep through Africa? Unfortunately, not in the same proportion that I mentioned, as we've seen this in Europe, pobably because, in a way, Africa, you know, African traditional systems kind of protect or have protected its, you know, its population against this tendency (inaudible), because in several communities and several (inaudible) in Africa, almost (inaudible), or for that matter, any, you know, any effort between two sexes of the same kind are not -- are not anything -- you know, they are not countenanced in society.

So that quarter, if you want a taboo, that tradition has been there. Except to keep this out. But here, the concern is there, and I think it has really impaired, if you want a credibility of the church of its ministers and pastors, and that is one big area that we still need to work on.

We need to work on, you know, on healing and restoration of credibility to our ministers and pastors. And that would probably also mean that we do not only work on restoring credibility, but we also need to work on our houses of formation (ph) so that we do not have (inaudible) come out of our houses of omission (ph) any more. So there is -- there is a lot of work to do in that regard.

AMANPOUR: Cardinal --

TURKSON: What other victims are being sufficiently taken care of here, I mean, I don't have statistics now, but I know that in all Episcopal (ph) conferences, there are measures, you know, you know, set in place to deal with the victims of abuse and make sure that, you know, they're well taken care of in society.

AMANPOUR: Cardinal Turkson, so much more to talk about. Thank you for joining me, and we'll be watching the conclave. All the best.

TURKSON: Thanks.

AMANPOUR: And we'll be right back after a break.


AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, so Winston Churchill said of Russia. But he could have been describing North Korea. I traveled to the hermit kingdom back in 2008, when it looked like it wanted to get out of the nuclear business, even blowing up a nuclear reactor for us all to see.

And I also saw first-hand what daily life was like there. Here's a snapshot of 19th century nation in 21st century worlds.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): In the capital, we saw very few cars, most are government owned. There are no traffic lights. Instead, these striking young women in bright blue uniforms direct vehicles like dancers in a precisely choreographed ballet.


AMANPOUR: Five years later, traffic lights are replacing the famous traffic ladies, but another kind of traffic, on the outlawed Internet and banned social media, is giving North Koreans a crucial glimpse of the outside world.

That's it for tonight's program. Thanks for watching and goodbye from New York.